The Portrayal of Women in Jonson's Volpone
Women for centuries have fought against a male dominated society in order to achieve a more equal standing. This same society and its stereotypes of women have proven to be a hindrance to accomplishing this lofty goal. These stereotypes prevailed in renaissance England and flourished in many of the female characters in the literature. Ben Jonson's classic comedy, Volpone, surely falls into this category. The portrayal of Celia and Lady Would-Be in Volpone reflects the misperceptions and low status of women in Renaissance England.
Celia reveals herself initially, however briefly, in Act II, Scene II. She does not speak but simply observes Volpone from her window, dropping her handkerchief to show her interest. This scene of Volpone down below on the street and Celia leaning out her window from above is reminiscent of the romantic stories of a lady-in-waiting being wooed by the gracious knight. However, Volpone's intentions toward the fair Celia prove less than honorable. Celia shows an innocence and naivety that proves endearing and repulsive at the same time. Although women had limited rights at this time, her lack of self-esteem feeds the stereotype of the beautiful woman who lacks substance. Celia finally speaks in Act II, Scene IV, in response to her husband's angry tirade. When Corvino demoralizes Celia by dragging her in from the window, she responds, "Good Sir, have patience." The audience instantly sees Celia as a victim, unable to stand up for herself. Because she has given up control of her own destiny to her husband, Celia plays the role of lady-in-distress, waiting for her knight in shining armor. Corvino, so jealous that he locks his wife up in her room, does not fit the part of the white knight, but rather the villain to be defeated. Celia's husband treats her far less like a lady and far more like a prisoner. By keeping Celia locked in her room, Corvino thinks of her as his most "prized" possession....
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